Called Session on Climate Change

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Called Session on Climate Change: What are we called to do?
Saturday, June 4, 2005
Friends Center, 15th and Cherry Streets, Philadelphia

The special called session on climate change began with a period of silent worship. Gretchen Castle of Doylestown Meeting served as presiding clerk. Thomas Swain of Middletown Meeting (Concord Quarter) served as Alternate Clerk, and John McKinstry of Swarthmore Meeting served as recording clerk. The clerk acknowledged with gratitude the hard work of many including Ed Dreby and Joan Broadfield for their hard work in preparing for this morning’s session.

Ed Dreby of Mount Holly Meeting introduced the session’s guests. Anthony Broccoli is Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science at Rutgers University. Ned Stowe is the Legislative Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The title of Tony’s talk was “Understanding Global Warming: Evidence and Controversies.” He began by noting that the science of climate change is based on 3 categories of evidence. First, there are increasing levels of greenhouse gases (water vapor and carbon dioxide) due to use of fossil fuels. This increased level of greenhouse gases reduces the emission of infrared radiation to space. Second, direct observation and measurement from weather stations around the world show the earth’s average temperature over this last century had increased significantly. Third, climate models that can simulate the changes in weather patterns have been successful in predicting the actual changes in climate over the last 100 years. These models show significant changes in temperature and precipitation in the future.

Next, he noted that there are three controversies related to climate change. The first is over detection: Can we detect a significant change in warming? Most scientists who have studied this say we can. The second is over attribution: Have human activities caused this change? Most evidence suggests that they have. The third is over policy: What should we do about it? The developed world supplies 75% of the emissions, and in 50 years, 50% will come from the developed world and 50% from the developing world. He also noted that it is not merely the opinions of scientists that will have an impact, but those of all people.

Ned Stowe then spoke on the policy-making side of the question. Neither Congress nor the Bush Administration has given climate change a priority. FCNL’s policy has focused on the history of wars and the relationship to oil. The increased dependence of the U.S. on imported oil means greater likelihood of oil wars. FCNL is also concerned about the effect on the environment. They note that there are plenty of reductions possible through energy conservation.

There are three bills being debated now in Congress: 1) A National Energy Policy bill represents an opportunity to divert away from consumption and high emission of greenhouse gases. The House version only focuses on increased supplies, not reduced demand. 2) The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act addresses reduction of greenhouse gases through market mechanisms (such as cap and trade) but this has defects such as clean-coal and nuclear energy provisions. 3) There are energy appropriations bills which do little to address climate changes.

On a positive note, Ned told us that foreign countries, insurance companies, shareholders, and state and local governments are taking the lead where the federal government is failing. Also, an unusual coalition of people from across the political spectrum has organized to urge the U.S. to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The morning session closed with a question and answer session. The questions reflected a strong feeling regarding the urgency for action, a need to be guided by the spirit and a need to take this leading to our governmental leaders.

The meeting then organized into groups based on the various regions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for a period of worship sharing. The groups were 1) Abington and Bucks Quarterly Meetings, 2) Caln and Upper Susquehanna Quarterly Meetings, 3) Chester, Haverford and Philadelphia Quarterly Meetings, 4) Concord and Western Quarterly Meetings, 5) Meetings in Delaware and Maryland, and 6) Meetings in New Jersey. The worship sharing centered on the following queries:

  • What priority should be given to climate change relative to other Friends concerns?
  • What more do I need to know about global warming to discern its importance for me?
  • What are my biggest obstacles to taking meaningful action about global warming?
  • How can Friends support one another in lessening these obstacles?

John McKinstry, recording clerk


Having held worship sharing sessions in regional groups and then spent time for lunch, Friends reconvened at 1:15 PM to participate in the afternoon session. In the worship sharing sessions the following queries had been addressed:

  • What priority should be given to climate change relative to other Friends concerns?
  • What more do I need to know about global warming to discern its importance for me?
  • What are my biggest obstacles to taking meaningful action about global warming?
  • How can Friends support one another in lessening these obstacles?

The clerk called Friends into worship during which she read from Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future with hope.”

The clerk then introduced those on the facing bench: herself, Gretchen Castle, from Doylestown Meeting; Thomas Swain, alternate clerk, and Richard Ailes, recording clerk, both from Middletown Meeting, Concord Quarter. The agenda for the afternoon was presented with presentations to be made regarding Friends Center renovations, the role of FCNL, a new PYM Climate Action Network, and encouraging Monthly Meeting participation in the concern of climate change. After this there would be time for threshing out the question: “Is there a sense of the meeting that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is under the weight of climate change?”

Patricia McBee of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and Sandy Wiggins, project manager, presented us with the plans and rationale behind the environmentally friendly renovations proposed for Friends Center. The building has not had a major overhaul since it opened 30 years ago. It is home to many Quaker organizations including the 3 major stakeholders, the American Friends Service Committee, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. These stakeholders are committed to creating a building renovation that will be an example to the surrounding community of the Quaker testimonies of simplicity and stewardship. Pat and Sandy referenced a handout that provided detailed listings of the environmentally oriented changes. Five million dollars is currently available for the work to modernize the building but another 2 million dollars needs to be raised if the project’s goals of becoming fossil fuel free and eliminating storm water runoff are to be realized. Pat asked for our financial support. She invited everyone to an in depth presentation of the project at an event to be held at Friends Center on Thursday, June 22 from 4 to 6 PM.

Margaret Mansfield of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting, one of PYM’s representatives to Friends Committee on National Legislation, then rose to give testimony to that organization’s value to all Quakers and to our country as a whole. Noting FCNL’s pivotal role in such causes as the civil rights movement in the ’40s and ’50s and the initiation of the Peace Corp in the 1960s, Margaret pointed out how critically we will depend upon its staff to guide us through the energy legislation needed to support our concern about climate change. She challenged us to financially and politically support this organization as it brings its spiritually based lobbying and education to a place where spiritual discernment is in short supply.

Isobel Cashman of Radnor Monthly Meeting then presented plans for a new group in the Yearly Meeting that would work with Monthly and Quarterly Meetings to keep this concern at the center of Friends’ attention. The Peace and Concerns Standing Committee has approved in principle the idea of establishing a PYM Climate Action Network. This group is envisioned to have a contact in each Monthly Meeting and 6 regional coordinating committees that would work with these local contacts to develop and season the network’s activities. A Yearly Meeting-wide coordinating group composed of members of the regional groups would further develop and season the ideas and activities coming from the regions.

Finally, Ed Dreby, member of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting, rose to speak about his long association with this concern, expressing his strong desire that Monthly Meetings will come under its weight. He reminded us that the theologian John Cobb, when asked if he had hope for the future, responded by saying he was not hopeful, but he believed in miracles. Friend Ed asked us to think of ways we could ignite this concern in our Meetings so we could, one day, act as a corporate body to help make a miracle happen.

The clerk then asked the Meeting this question: “Is there a sense of the meeting that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is under the weight of climate change?” — to which Friends and attenders spoke out of the worship.

This message was then given to us almost immediately: “I pray that our holy wills, will unite in this purpose.”

The ministry then rose out of both spiritual and practical places.

One member reminded us of how our witness against slavery as an instrument of political economy helped bring that evil institution to an end. Might we also be an example of how to live in the spirit of conservation which blesses the earth with renewal in place of exploitation? Another noted how our work in this concern is “love made visible” because the renovations of Friends Center will stand as our testimony to our community of our care for the earth. Another Friend showed us how we could prioritize those renovations effectively, being guided by the estimated cost savings per year as described in the renovation spreadsheet.

It was strongly suggested that we go forth now with a sense of immediacy and accountability because we do not have a hundred years to season this concern. Perhaps God is calling us to be prophetic witnesses challenging each other to speak out and to act, lest we let our world community become, as another Friend put it, “a Jonestown,” full of self induced pain, suffering and death.

In the end one Friend pleaded with us passionately to take up this cause, or she would have to take it up alone.

As the ministry progressed it seemed this concern was being given as a challenge that the Yearly Meeting must take up. The clerk tested this by asking if Friends were ready to unite with the idea that we be under the weight of this concern. This was approved.

The clerk then called for the recording clerk to propose a final minute that those in attendance should consider for approval. After seeking the counsel of the clerks on the facing bench and the body of the Meeting and calling upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance, those gathered approved the following:

Friends at this session unite behind the desire that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting incorporate this concern about the rise of global climate temperatures and its dangerous implications for life on our earth into the body of its work in the world.

We feel ready with divine assistance, to assume the challenges of being prophetic witnesses to protect our earth. 

We call upon the Yearly Meeting, in all its manifestations, to seek ways to hold our members lovingly accountable to live in God’s world in a more environmentally sustainable fashion and to join other like-minded groups and organizations in supporting this concern.

The Meeting then closed with worship to allow the Spirit amongst us to carry forward this concern into our daily lives.

Gretchen Castle, clerk
Thomas Swain, alternate clerk
Richard Ailes, recording clerk